VR, AR, and the Internet of Things: Life Beyond Second Life

[According to this Campus Technology interview with Phil Repp, the VP for IT at Ball State, there are many new opportunities to view ancient ruins, use simulations in the health sciences, or understand the mechanics of flight using AR/VR.]

By Mary Grush 12/06/16

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It gets even more interesting when virtual and augmented reality meet the Internet of Things.”  — Phil Repp

Ball State University has been exploring virtual reality since the early days of Second Life. Here, CT talks with Vice President for Information Technology Phil Repp about how our hyper reality has changed, with more advanced virtual reality, augmented reality, the ability to work in HD, the inclusion of the IoT and datasets, and the increasing accessibility of related tools and devices.

Mary Grush: When did Ball State University start working with virtual reality and related technologies, and why was that priority for you?

Phil Repp: Our own efforts in VR began in the mid-90s and grew out of the need to have greater visualization of ideas in many of our disciplines on campus.

Grush: Hadn’t there been strides in visualization in some disciplines much earlier than that?

Repp: Ways to visualize ideas has been a kind of search for a very long time, particularly in the design disciplines. You can even find it dating back to the 15th century in examples like Filippo Brunelleschi, who invented perspective: He didn’t like the idea of flat drawings of his buildings, so he learned how to show dimension through perspective. And there have been stages in various disciplines over time — e.g., mathematics and the sciences — where discipline-specific visualization tools took several steps forward.

So the search for better visualization of ideas has been on for centuries, but recently technology has taken it to a whole different level. And VR can both span disciplines and offer an intuitive experience.

For us at Ball State University, when technology tools started to get more sophisticated and VR became more generally available — you remember the early days of Second Life, for example — that’s when we began experimenting with the hyper reality of representing and visualizing ideas.

Soon we were using many 3D tools, virtual reality, and augmented reality to move ourselves toward the ability to represent things in a way that would be closer to what’s in a person’s mind’s eye in sharing and communicating an idea.

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Immersion Lab Offfers New Learning Opportunities

Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Updated 11 hours ago

 [I helped the Montour School District, a suburban district outside Pittsburgh, PA,  to write a STEAM grant to purchase the zSpace system. It’s exciting to read this Tribune Review article that highlights some of the early success for the immersive lab.]
Keith Hodan | Trib Total MediaInside the Montour Virtual Immersion Lab at Montour High School, physics teacher Doug Macek watches over Anthony Catanzarite, 16, a junior, as the class practices using the new 3-D technology, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Montour is the only school in Pennsylvania that has this new technology. Using special glasses, stylus, and monitor, the tech allows students to work on lessons that include the virtual dissection of everything from a red blood cell to a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Keith Hodan | Trib Total MediaInside the Montour Virtual Immersion Lab at Montour High School, physics teacher Doug Macek watches over Anthony Catanzarite, 16, a junior, as the class practices using the new 3-D technology, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Montour is the only school in Pennsylvania that has this new technology. Using special glasses, stylus, and monitor, the tech allows students to work on lessons that include the virtual dissection of everything from a red blood cell to a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Wearing 3-D glasses and sitting in front of glowing computer screens, Montour School District students can construct holographic obstacle courses, peel back delicate layers of the human eye or dissect a Tyrannosaurus rex — all with the flick of a stylus.

“You’re able to view things you’d never see in real life,” 11th-grader Michael Maslakowski said of the elaborate software that allows users to examine a dinosaur skeleton or experiment with a car’s mechanics.

The Virtual Immersion Lab at Montour High School in Robinson, which cost $70,000, is the first full lab of its kind in the state. The district spent $50,000 on the lab, and the rest was paid for with a $20,000 grant from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, funded by local foundations, said Justin Aglio, director of innovation at Montour.

“The students are amazed by it. It is unique. There’s a lot of buzz about the lab, even at other schools,” Aglio said.

Nearly all of the students who have used it say the lab is “so real,” said Elizabeth Lyte, director of education at zSpace, which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., and was founded in 2007. “You can pick up and pull out a beating heart or dissect a frog,” she said.

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